U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree may take a few knocks over the still-emerging jet travel story, but she is unlikely to lose her seat over it, political observers said Sunday.

University of Maine political scientist Amy Fried said the fact that Pingree has flown on a private jet owned by her fiance, billionaire S. Donald Sussman, hasn’t created any legal or ethical issues.

“If there was, then it would be just as unethical for him to take her to dinner, or to give her any kind of rides,” said Fried.

But it will be something she has to talk about during her re-election campaign, Fried said.

“No candidate wants headlines saying that there’s questions raised or issues have emerged,” said Fried. “To that extent, it’s certainly not a positive for her campaign.”

And no matter what the facts are, the overall storyline will influence some voters’ perception, said Brian Duff, a political scientist at the University of New England.

“People love to think about congressmen living high on the hog off of lobbyists’ dollars,” said Duff. “Whatever the details, this story’s going to fit into that narrative in a way that’s not going to help her reputation with voters.”

Duff noted that Republican Paul LePage, who is running for governor in Maine, has done a good job of “acting indignant” over tax questions concerning his wife. His base of supporters has reacted strongly in his favor, Duff said. It may be different for Pingree, Duff suggested, because she is a woman and people are asking about her fiance, rather than a spouse.

“It will be interesting to see whether it’s harder for Pingree to push these things into the category of ‘This is family business,’ ” said Duff. “I do think there could be a gender thing here.”

Both Duff and Fried said they didn’t see the heavily Democratic 1st Congressional District shunning Pingree, however.

“I think Pingree is in very solid shape for this election,” said Duff. “I would be surprised if some rides on your fiance’s jet — no matter who your fiance is — is going to put that seat at risk.”

This election year will be a tough one for Democrats, said Fried. “But if (Pingree) were to fall, it would have to be a rather massive (Republican) wave,” said Fried. 

Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

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